When it comes to NHL drafted goaltenders in the QMJHL, it is a sad and sorry state of affairs. Not only are there just four netminders in their league who have their pro rights held by NHL teams, but the road has been rocky for each of those four goalies.
1. Christopher Gibson, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
NHL Rights: Los Angeles Kings
Drafted 49th overall, 2nd round, 2011
Now in his third season in the QMJHL, Christopher Gibson took a step back after being one of the top goaltenders in the league during his draft year. Seeing action in 48 games this year, his goals against average rose from 2.42 up to 2.97, while his save percentage fell from .920 to .893. While his 2011-12 numbers still place him among the top ten goaltenders in the QMJHL, it is a bit of a step back from the previous year, where he had the league’s top save percentage and second best goals against average.
Despite not being able to improve on last season’s numbers, Gibson has started in a career high 48 games and this was the first year he was able to post a winning record, going 27-17-2-2, with three shutouts.
It might be surprising to note that despite Gibson being unable to replicate his drat year heroics, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens have actually improved this year. Jumping from 13th in the league a year ago up to eighth, the Sagueneens have home ice advantage entering into the playoffs this year. Gibson’s playoff record is far from sterling and he’ll be looking to improve in that area as the 19-year-old finishes off his major junior career.
Named to the Finnish World Junior squad, Gibson lost out on starting duties to returning net minder Sami Aittokallio (COL). He played in two games with a 1-1 record and finished with a .866 save percentage and a 4.50 goals against average with Finland finishing fourth in the tournament.
Thanks to a late 1992 birthday, this could possibly be the end of Gibson’s last season in major junior. He’ll be considered an over-ager next season in the QMJHL and would be eligible to turn pro and play in the minors of the Los Angeles Kings organization. However, he has yet to be signed to a pro contract and the Kings can hold his rights until June of 2013. Los Angeles has a number of promising goaltending prospects ahead of him already on pro contracts including Jeff Zatkoff, Martin Jones and former QMJHLer J-F Berube. With that all considered Gibson’s fate is far from clear when it comes to next season.
Another 19-year-old goaltender, Louis Domingue‘s future is a bit more certain then Christopher Gibson‘s: the Quebec Remparts net minder has already signed an entry-level deal with the Phoenix Coyotes and is set to make the jump to pro hockey next season.
Looking at the present, Domingue has put up career numbers this year with a goals against average of 2.61 and a league-leading save percentage of .914. His steady play over the past three seasons with the Remparts has not gone unnoticed, as Domingue was invited to the World Junior selection camp this past winter, but did not crack the final roster.
Back in Quebec, Domingue has found himself in a different competition. Having played in 39 games this season, that is the lightest workload for the 19-year-old since his rookie campaign. The reason is twofold: a nagging groin injury during the second half of the year and a rookie net minder pushing him for playing time. Newcomer Francois Brassard wasn’t selected until the sixth-round last summer, but he’s quickly emerged as one of the top young goaltenders in the QMJHL.
The duo has split starts all season long, but over the final two months of the regular season, Brassard has seen the bulk of the action as Domingue’s groin continues to cause trouble. Recent statements from the coaching staff seem to indicate that it will be the rookie Brassard and not Domingue getting the nod when the playoffs begin.
Domingue’s playoff experience (27 games over the past two seasons) is obviously very valuable to the Remparts and if the rookie falters, he should be more than capable of filling in, but it is possible that Domingue’s last taste of major junior hockey comes from the bench.
David Honzik has also watched his starting job be stolen from under him by a QMJHL rookie. In his case, the second-year goaltender was looking to build off a strong rookie campaign and a surprising playoff run with Victoriaville as the team matured into a championship contender. However, it wasn’t long into the season before he found himself sharing time with rookie Brandon Whitney.
Honzik’s stat line this year is a small improvement over the previous season’s marks. He dropped his goals against average from 3.54 to 3.49, while raising his save percentage from .884 to .885. His record stands at 22-14-1-1 with three shutouts.
Victoriaville as a whole has jumped from finishing 11th in the league last year with 74 points to finishing with the third best record this year with 94 points. Of particular note is the team’s success playing in front of Whitney. Like Honzik, he has 22 wins on the season, but has only played in 36 games with a superior goals against and save percentage.
Honzik really made a name for himself in the playoffs last season, when the upstart Tigres knocked off the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in a four-game sweep before bowing out to eventual national champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs in five games. With that said, it’s far from guaranteed that Honzik will get a second chance to replicate such magic this year in the post season. He has seen the majority of the starts over the past two months, which might indicate he will get the nod to start the playoff run, but in the same breath, it is likely that he’ll have a short leash, considering Whitney’s strong play.
4. Mathieu Corbeil Saint John Sea Dogs
NHL rights: Columbus Blue Jackets
Drafted 102nd overall, 4th round, 2010
Despite not yet signing an entry-level deal, Mathieu Corbeil has already had a taste of NHL action. Due to a rash of injuries among Columbus goaltenders, Corbeil was an emergency call-up earlier in the season. Although the 20-year-old did not see any game action, the experience was certainly a piece of what has been a memorable season for Corbeil.
At first glance, it might be odd for Corbeil to be listed as fourth on the list. After all, he didn’t lose his starting duties to his backup, nor did his numbers drop. In fact, statistically, Corbeil was one of the top goalies in the league. His 2.38 goals-against-average led all QMJHL goalies, while his .911 save percentage placed him fifth in the league. An overager this season, he boasted a sterling record of 37-10-0-1 and after not posting a shutout in his first three seasons of action, he finished the year with six whitewashes.
But the question has to be asked: how much of that is Corbeil and how much is the team in front of him? Playing for the defending Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs, Corbeil ‘s squad once again laid waste to the QMJHL for their record third-straight regular season championship. Thanks to the deep squad in front of him, Corbeil has only faced an average of 27 shots per game this season.
For comparison, prior to joining Saint John halfway through last season, Corbeil played two and a half seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads, a team that struggled throughout his time with them. Seeing on average 32 shots per game during that time, Corbeil never broke double digits in wins in any season, nor did his save percentage raise higher than .883 or his goals against average drop below 3.76.
It is likely that Corbeil may not be as poor as his play with the Mooseheads suggest, nor as strong as his time with the Sea Dogs indicates, but as it stands, the net minder has yet to be signed to a pro contract. Corbeil and the Sea Dogs are heavy favorites to repeat as QMJHL champions and defend their Memorial Cup title this year.
Formerly known as a "goaltender factory", this list of four is a far cry from the heyday of Quebec-born goaltenders in the 1990s. For example, in 1995, eight goaltenders were drafted out of the QMJHL, including three in the first round.
However, it isn’t all bad news for the future of goaltending in Eastern Canada. The next two drafts look to boast a promising contingent of QMJHL puck stoppers. Leading the way in the upcoming 2012 draft is Brandon Whitney and Francois Brassard from the Victoriaville Tigres and the Quebec Remparts. Both rookies this year, they were expected to learn the ropes behind Domingue and Honzik but instead each player has stepped up considerably. In Brassard’s case, he may have even stolen away starting duties for Quebec heading into the playoffs.
Francois Tremblay and Etienne Marcoux have an extra year experience under their belts, both spending their 16-year-old seasons as backups. Now as draft-eligible 17-year-olds, Tremblay’s Val d’Or Foreurs and Marcoux’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada have battled all season long in the TELUS West Division. with each young net minder seeing the bulk of the starts for their respective team.
Finally, Roman Will of the Moncton Wildcats and Maxime Legace of the PEI Rocket might get some attention at this year’s draft after being passed over in their first year of eligibility. Will is a rookie this year after spending his draft year in his native Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Legace has seen a lot of rubber this season playing for the league’s worst Rocket.
Looking even farther ahead to the 2013 NHL draft and there are already a handful of players making noise more than a year out from their draft date.
Zachary Fucale of the Halifax Mooseheads has been nothing short of impressive for a rookie. An injury to veteran Anthony Terenzio forced him into the starting role and he took the reins and ran with them. With 32 wins on the season this year, Fucale has set a record for most wins by a 16-year-old in the QMJHL.
Philippe Cadorette of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar might not see as much ice time as Fucale, but has been similarly impressive, including being named CHL Goaltender of the Week back in January. Sharing duties with veteran Jimmy Appleby at present, he could step into a full-time starting role next season.
Domenic Graham is actually in his second year of service with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, but his late 1994 birthday means he won’t be drafted until 2013. Splitting time in his rookie season, Graham has filled the number one seat in Drummondville this year admirably.
Finally, prospects Alexandre Belanger of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Philippe Desrosiers of the Rimouski Oceanic are expected to make a full-time impact at the QMJHL level during their draft year next season.